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See Cassini spacecraft's first images from its new Saturn orbit

Saturn shows off its geometric cloudy north pole as Cassini snuggles in close to the planet's main rings.

Cassini took this two days before its first close pass of the main rings.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is taking its Saturn studies to a close-shave level with a new orbit that has it skimming the edges of the planet's rings. The probe's cameras snapped some fresh views in early December, including a good look at the hexagonal cloud pattern on Saturn's north pole.

The images hint at what's to come as Cassini continues what NASA calls its "Ring-Grazing Orbits." The space agency has planned 20 week-long orbits until April 2017, when Cassini will be redirected to a close flyby of the moon Titan.

The pictures are a reminder of next year's impending finale of the Cassini mission, which involves the spacecraft diving into Saturn's atmosphere until it's heard from no more. It's been quite a ride for Cassini, which first launched in 1997 and has spent over a decade studying Saturn and its satellites.

"This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn," said Cassini imaging team lead Carolyn Porco. "Let these images -- and those to come -- remind you that we've lived a bold and daring adventure around the solar system's most magnificent planet."

Saturn's hexagonal cloud pattern on display for Cassini.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute